After the smash success of Batman, series producer and creator Bill Dozier went back to the world of comic books and comic strips. In 1966 and 1967, he shots a couple superhero pilots — an adaptation of Dick Tracy and campy Wonder Woman short called "Who's Afraid of Diana Prince" that was more I Dream of Jeannie than Amazon warrior.
Those, obviously, failed to make it to air, but Dozier did score as executive producer for another masked television vigilante. Created by George W. Trendle, the Hollywood mind behind The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet was supposed to be a distant relative of the Ranger and just as dedicated to justice.
Like Bruce Wayne, publisher and playboy Britt Reid had the wealth to create a vast arsenal of weapons to fight crime — not to mention the awesome sidekick Kato, played by Bruce Lee. From the beginning, the conscientious character carried a gas gun that would disable villains rather than outright kill them.
The Gas Gun was a brilliant creation. The Fox effects department had previously constructed a similar prop in the Mr. Freeze rifle on Batman. To produce the gas effect, at first they tried canisters of carbon dioxide (see the bottom image), much like a tiny fire extinguisher. The effect looked great, but it spit out too big a plume for such a small pistol.
Instead, compressed air was blown through rubber medical tubing to spray baby powder out of the small prop. The trigger on the back of the pistol was supposed to activate the gun, but in reality the prop was operated by an effects man, sitting off-screen on the floor with a hose and talcum!
This made for some real problems for star Van Williams, who never quite knew when the gun would go off. In some cases, he menaced with the gas gun longer than he would have liked — or worse yet, he would accidentally step on the rubber hose running up through his sleeve and the gun wouldn't work at all.
Similar issues arose with the Hornet's other primary weapon, the Sting. That prop was just as unpredictable when it was first deployed on the show. The long, telescoping tool was initially spring loaded. However, it telescoped with such force, it was deemed dangerous on set.
The next technique they tried was compressed air, which was also far too powerful when triggered. Finally, the skill of Van Williams solved the Hornet Sting dilemma — he used his dexterity to simply extend the Sting with a flick. He did it with such style as to make the prop look fully functional.
And as for Bruce Lee's Kato, the martial arts legend used his signature moves to make Kato's Hornet Dart zip through the air with just as much style. Perhaps the most simple prop on The Green Hornet, the Dart was made from a 1960s British pub dart.
This was a case of pure physical acting finesse, as the leads used their skills to bring an impressive arsenal buzzing into action.
You can purchase beautiful replicas of Gas Gun, Kato Dart and Sting from Factory Entertainment.
Watch The Green Hornet on H&I, Saturdays at 5A ET | 2A PT.